Paul Cook’s reign as Chesterfield manager didn’t start as he, or just about anyone else, expected.
Rock bottom Barnet, without an away win all season, are just about the team everyone would have wanted for Cook’s bow. But the North Londoners, devoid of any ambition for the majority of the game, grabbed a last-gasp penalty to take all three points.
Mark Byrne, who had an extremely poor game, strode up to stroke the spot-kick home after Andy Yiadom had skipped through Chris Atkinson and Drew Talbot into the box and the latter clipped his heels as he shaped to deliver.
That body blow made it three straight home losses for Spireites, and with respect to the winners, Dagenham & Redbridge, Fleetwood Town and Barnet can hardly be called giants of League Two.
Cook said: “Sometimes football’s got that way of doing things. That’s the second time in five days we’ve conceded late on. You look at the game, the chances we created, it’s all well and good saying ‘if only’ but that means that we got beaten.
“We’re a big club in this division and at big clubs you have an expectancy on you and for us in this game, it wasn’t good enough.”
Spireites rarely shone and they never looked like a side set to rip the 24th-placed side to pieces. However they did test keeper Graham Stack frequently, particularly in a spell just before half time, but the former Arsenal man was up to the task.
He made tip-over saves from Danny Whitaker and twice from Sam Togwell, the second from him being a particularly good save, and he blocked a point blank Jack Lester header.
Lester and Sam Hird had headers from corners that flew wide, both should have done better, whilst there were a whole host of other near misses, Atkinson and Whitaker with the best of them.
A Liam Ridehalgh cross somehow eluded both sub Craig Westcarr and Lester, it took a deflection for a corner, and the frustration on the faces of that trio of players indicated just how bad it was for the home side in front of goal.
With the stellar Edgar Davids controlling things on the park, verbally rather than through his football, Barnet’s time-wasting tactics brought them exactly what they were hoping for. Mark Randall pulled out of a tackle after a Chesterfield attack was partially repelled and Yiadom, who had teased Talbot into an error earlier, won the penalty and Byrne won the game.
In the five minutes of additional time, some of it due to Tendayi Darikwa breaking his nose but most of it due to Barnet’s approach, Westcarr found himself with just the keeper to beat, but he fluffed his lines and the away win was protected by Stack.
Cook rued: “You need to work hard during the week to get a platform to play football on the Saturday, so what we’ll do is go away, work hard on the training ground to put things right. It’s easy to come on and criticise players, but I don’t do that, we get our point across in the dressing room. Going forward, we’ll be strong together.
“I saw nothing I liked today, being beaten 1-0 I never see anything. I told the players that their lives must change when they get beaten, it’s not good, if it doesn’t hurt you there’s something wrong. We must work hard, we must get things right and then the fans get behind you but you must show a tempo in the game, you must give the supporters something to jump on. Unfortunately in the game, the longer it went on, the less we gave them.”
A week on the training ground now ahead of the FA Cup tie against League One’s bottom club, Hartlepool United. Cook will be without skipper Sam Hird, who picked up his fifth booking of the season, for a game that will see Spireites trying to beat league opposition in the competition for the first time since their semi-final run in 1997.
Chesterfield (4-4-1-1): O’Donnell 6, Talbot 5, Hird 8, Forbes 7, Ridehalgh 5, Darikwa 7 (Evans 77), Togwell 7 (Westcarr 74), Atkinson 6, Smith 6 (Randall 61, 5), Whitaker 7, Lester 5. Subs (not used): Wilson, Trotman, Clay, Boden.
Barnet (4-1-4-1): Stack 8, Fuller 6, Stephens 7, Pearce 7, Brown 6, Kamdjo 6, Oster 5 (Edgar 19, 4) (Lee 78), Davids 6, Yiadom 7, Byrne 5, Hyde 5 (Nurse 82). Subs (not used): Cowler, Fortune, Abdulla, Johnson.
Bookings: Hird (Chesterfield), Davids (Barnet).